Oculus Connect 2 is currently taking place in California and it's brought with it a dozen announcements. No, not the price - though it'll be at least $300. No, not a more specific release date than "Q1 2016", though they did say the Touch controllers would be out Q2 2016. But if you want to know about watching Netflix in a virtual reality cinema, playing Minecraft on a VR headset, and which games are being developed specifically for the Oculus Rift and Oculus Touch, then read on for details and videos.
Software which allowed you to sit in a virtual cinema and watch video files was quickly made for early Oculus Rift headsets. As odd as this sounds, it works quite well in creating the sense of scale you get from going to an actual cinema, simply by putting a fake screen in front of you that's big enough that you need to move your eyes back and forth to see its edges.
Oculus Video is the official version of the same idea and at Connect 2, it was announced that Oculus had partnered with major film distributors like Fox and Lionsgate, as well as Netflix, Twitch, Vimeo and, er, Oculus owners Facebook. That means you'll be able to use the headset to watch "over 100 hit movies," including The Hunger Games, Alien and X-Men, as well as FIFA Ultimate Team pack opening livestreams and mobile phone footage of your nephew's birthday party.
The Future Is Here And I Want It rating: 3/5.
These features were inevitable and are welcome, but I like watching videos with friends and don't much fancy anti-socially strapping myself into a headset just so I can pretend the screen is bigger.
Minecraft on Oculus
It seems that Microsoft using Minecraft to push HoloLens, their own augmented reality headset, hasn't prevented Mojang from making Minecraft for the Oculus headset. The game will be released for the Rift next spring.
Much like the video service above, it took about thirty seconds for someone to knock together a Minecraft mod that worked with the Oculus Rift DK1. I tried it at the time and, though it was a clumsy hack, it did a lot to sell me on the potential of the pairing. Virtual reality is particularly good at conveying scale, and so Minecraft's landscapes are more exciting to explore than ever when you see the horizon stretching convincingly away in front of you. I'm slightly scared of the experience of falling down an enormous cave, though.
Strap The Cyberdeck's Dermatrodes To My Eyeballs rating: 4/5.
I think games which are made specifically for the Rift are the better bet for anything other than novelty, but the novelty of a modifiable and functionally infinite virtual reality world is nothing to sniff at.
Oculus Ready program
This is a minor thing, but it's important: Oculus have identified a recommended PC spec for using the Oculus Rift, and PCs which meet that spec will have 'Oculus Ready' branding. I have built many PCs on my own, but I still wish the process of picking which garble-named graphics card to buy was easier. This should help with that. Here are the recommended specs (and you can read more on the Oculus site):
- NVIDIA GTX 970 / AMD 290 equivalent or greater
- Intel i5-4590 equivalent or greater
- 8GB+ RAM
"I know kung fu." "Show me." rating: 2/5
This is a good thing, but there's still a long way to go before your gran is going to be comfortable using a virtual reality headset. And ultimately, like the Wii's motion controllers, I think that's where virtual reality is and ought to be headed.
These are, I suspect, what will make the difference between virtual reality being an occasional party piece or flight sim peripheral, and being an actual alternative route for the medium. And so far, I haven't seen anything which has made me go, "Ooh, I really want that strapped to my face for hours and hours." Admittedly these short montage videos aren't the best for convincing anyone of anything, but see for yourself:
And the Oculus Touch games, which make use of the dual motion controllers:
Or there's this bland, bullet time FPS from Epic, called Bullet Train, which Alice wrote about in more detail yesterday:
I like EVE Valkyrie, I like Job Simulator, but I guess what I am looking for is a game that would convince me to buy a new system, if the concept of virtual reality alone wasn't compelling enough to already make me want to get involved.
Oh It Still Needs To Be About The Games, Doesn't It rating: 2/5
I will almost certainly buy some manner of VR headset at the first opportunity, but for VR itself, not the specific games.
The games being designed for it can be seen above, but what about the actual hardware? Oculus Touch was announced earlier this year and they're a pair of ring-shaped motion controllers with triggers and analogue sticks placed around them which are designed to be tracked accurately with low latency in 3D space. These seem a pretty essential part of any VR experience, because as soon as your vision is wholly immersed in a 3D space, you want to reach out and touch it, and - perhaps more importantly - you can't see the more traditional controllers like mouse, keyboard or gamepad anymore.
That's what makes it slightly strange that Oculus Touch does not come with the Oculus headset - you get an XBox pad with it instead - and it won't be released until a few months after the headset, in Q2 rather than Q1 of 2016. Hmm.
Knock Things You Can't See Off Your Actual Desk rating: 2/5
I won't be convinced by these until I can use them, but it would have helped if they were bundled with the headset, released at the same time as the headset, or if they had announced a price for them. As it is: shrug.
GearVR And Oculus Medium
It's not so relevant to a PC games site like us, but many of the announcements this year have focused on Gear VR. It's a headset into which you can slot a Samsung phone as a screen and is designed as a low-level entry point to VR. You get many of the same apps but a different set of games and it'll cost $99 at launch in November.
I used GearVR in order to play CCP's Gunjack at this year's Gamescom - it's a separate game from EVE Valkyrie - and while it was a perfectly fine, first-person arcade blaster, it did little to make me want to own one. That there's now an Oculus Arcade in which you can play Pac-Man doesn't change that.
Oculus Medium, meanwhile, is a 3D sculpting tool, and the sort of software that virtual reality and motion controllers makes instantly more accessible. I'd be unlikely to ever use it very much because I have little artistic skill, but the Vive 3D-painting equivalent was fun to tinker with and I bet people will create incredible things with it.
This Post Is Nearing Its End, Isn't It? rating 3/5
Not particularly relevant, but there are some neat ideas here and I think they're well-suited to people who aren't us.
You can find more detail on all of the above - including a bunch more developer-focused announcements about SDKs - in this Oculus blog post. You can also learn much more about how many of these things were made by listening to or watching John Carmack's keynote, which starts at around 3h 30m into this archived full day livestream.